Sheffield Wednesday: Why Owls are under pressure to balance the books

Chairman Dejphon Chansiri
Chairman Dejphon Chansiri
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They have spent big on transfer fees and salaries in their attempts to reach the promised land of the Premier League over the last three years.

But promotion to the top-flight has continued to elude Sheffield Wednesday.

Owls forward Fernando Forestieri

Owls forward Fernando Forestieri

Despite splashing the cash on strengthening the first-team squad, chairman Dejphon Chansiri is still waiting for a serious return on his investment.

The Thai businessman has bankrolled their lavish spending on players such as Jordan Rhodes, Almen Abdi, Adam Reach and Joost van Aken.

However, Wednesday’s recruitment drive has not had the desired effect. Too many signings have under-performed.

Their wage bill has markedly increased and the Owls are under pressure to cut their costs this summer.

Dejphon Chansiri, left, and Jos Luhukay

Dejphon Chansiri, left, and Jos Luhukay

After three years of unprecedented financial backing from Chansiri, Wednesday must balance the books if they are to avoid breaching Profitability and Sustainability rules in the long run.

The regulations, which were enforced at the start of the 2016/17 season, state clubs cannot exceed losses of £39m, or £13m a season, over a three-year period, although this includes a financial projection for the current financial year if the owner injects equity.

Wednesday’s latest accounts revealed the club’s losses more than doubled to £20.765m in the 2016/17 season on the back of a huge rise in the wage bill.

Rob Wilson, football finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University, told The Star: “The club is stable as an entity. The ownership structure is there and is supporting the development of the football club.

Midfield playmaker Barry Bannan

Midfield playmaker Barry Bannan

“What you are not going to get with Sheffield Wednesday is a quick fix. There will probably be a bit of cost-cutting.

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“When Chansiri took over three years ago, there was an assumption that he would be able to invest more heavily.

“But because of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) constraints, whether he has got the money or not is immaterial as they are simply not allowed to do that under the regulations.

“The alternative is Chansiri throws in £50m to £60m and buys a load of players and accepts they are going to breach FFP. If you get promoted, you don’t have to worry about the sanctions for a little while. It is what Leicester did and they were fined. QPR are obviously still in court over theirs.

“What you tend to find is the fines that are being dished out by the Football League are proportionately much less than what you are earning in the Premier League anyway.”

Rival clubs are aware that the Owls need to reduce their costs and have expressed an interest in some of their top performers, including Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri. Norwich are keen to sign striker Rhodes on a season long-loan deal.

Wednesday have turned down bids in the past for the likes of Forestieri, Bannan, Keiren Westwood and Tom Lees.

“They are going to have to look to unload some of the higher paid players,” said Kieran Maguire, a lecturer in football finance at the University of Liverpool. “The problem is I’m not convinced any of Sheffield Wednesday’s players are going to appeal to Premier League clubs.

“They have [Fernando] Forestieri and Jordan [Rhodes], for example who are on big contracts but who is going to sign them?

“And the problem in the Championship this season is that there are probably seven or eight clubs who are in a very similar position to Wednesday.

“They haven’t gambled but they have spent very close to the limit in the last two to three seasons and now it has caught up with them.”

The Owls have looked at other ways to raise additional revenue because of the pressures of Profitability and Sustainability. The club launched the 1867 Membership scheme last year but the initiative proved unpopular with supporters.

Wilson said: “Sheffield Wednesday need to find a way of operating within the constraints of FFP.

“Perhaps sign a couple of sponsorship deals and commercial arrangements to increase the amount of investment going into the football club.

“I think the most important thing for Wednesday is to get rid of a couple of the high-earners who simply didn’t produce the business on the pitch last year regardless of the managerial situation.

“I would expect to see some departures this summer and one or two additions.”

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Like Wilson, Maguire has extensively studied the Owls’ financial situation.

“In 2017, they were spending £126 on wages for every £100 coming in so that is simply not sustainable under the FFP rules unless they can generate extra income,” he said. “There is no extra income coming in from television this season compared to last year.

“In terms of the fan base, they can’t increase prices so what are the alternatives? In terms of commercial income, no one is going to pay a fortune to be a shirt sponsor.

“If you are looking to reduce your losses, you either increase the money coming in or you cut the money going out.

“The wages cost at Wednesday is a big one.”

It was over three months ago that Wednesday submitted their financial projection for the 2017/18 season to the EFL.

Both Wilson and Maguire are in agreement the Owls should have no issue adhering to FFP this season.

But Maguire feels the club would be foolish not to consider cashing in on one of their crown jewels.

He said: “I calculated Wednesday’s losses over the last three seasons as being around about £26m.

“I think they can afford to make a decent sized loss this season.

“That’s assuming the chairman is willing to fund that loss and the evidence says he is not looking to cash his chips in. They do have some wiggle room but are going to have to cut back some how and in my view Wednesday need to have one big ticket sale. I think then they will be in a strong position to perhaps bring in two or three players in.

“They don’t have to get rid of half a team like Aston Villa.”

The Owls have to be cuter in the transfer market, according to Wilson.

“They need to use the loan system quite aggressively,” he said. “The teams who do that in the Championship tend to perform slightly better.

“If they sold a couple of high-profile players, you would expect to replace those on a two to three fixed deals and supplement them with loan signings as well.”

Maguire echoed those sentiments, saying: “There are plenty of good players in the £1m-£1.5m bracket in that division.

“It’s a case of having good recruitment, doing your homework and getting a bit of luck. Some decent loan signings can make a big difference.

“If you look at when Huddersfield when they went up in 2017, they signed Izzy Brown and Aaaron Mooy on loan who were absolutely superb. They were two of the main players who got them up.

“It is a case of spending the money smarter and using the market sensibly.”

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